Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Millennial-scale variability in the local radiocarbon reservoir age of south Florida during the Holocene

October 17, 2017

A growing body of research suggests that the marine environments of south Florida provide a critical link between the tropical and high-latitude Atlantic. Changes in the characteristics of water masses off south Florida may therefore have important implications for our understanding of climatic and oceanographic variability over a broad spatial scale; however, the sources of variability within this oceanic corridor remain poorly understood. Measurements of ΔR, the local offset of the radiocarbon reservoir age, from shallow-water marine environments can serve as a powerful tracer of water-mass sources that can be used to reconstruct variability in local-to regional-scale oceanography and hydrology. We combined radiocarbon and U-series measurements of Holocene-aged corals from the shallow-water environments of the Florida Keys reef tract (FKRT) with robust statistical modeling to quantify the millennial-scale variability in ΔR at locations with (“nearshore”) and without (“open ocean”) substantial terrestrial influence. Our reconstructions demonstrate that there was significant spatial and temporal variability in ΔR on the FKRT during the Holocene. Whereas ΔR was similar throughout the region after ∼4000 years ago, nearshore ΔR was significantly higher than in the open ocean during the middle Holocene. We suggest that the elevated nearshore ΔR from ∼8000 to 5000 years ago was most likely the result of greater groundwater influence associated with lower sea level at this time. In the open ocean, which would have been isolated from the influence of groundwater, ΔR was lowest ∼7000 years ago, and was highest ∼3000 years ago. We evaluated our open-ocean model of ΔR variability against records of local-to regional-scale oceanography and conclude that local upwelling was not a significant driver of open-ocean radiocarbon variability in this region. Instead, the millennial-scale trends in open-ocean ΔR were more likely a result of broader-scale changes in western Atlantic circulation associated with an increase in the supply of equatorial South Atlantic water to the Caribbean and shifts in the character of South Atlantic waters resulting from variation in the intensity of upwelling off the southwest coast of Africa. Because accurate estimates of ΔR are critical to precise calibrations of radiocarbon dates from marine samples, we also developed models of nearshore and open-ocean ΔR versus conventional 14C ages that can be used for regional radiocarbon calibrations for the Holocene. Our study provides new insights into the patterns and drivers of oceanographic and hydrologic variability in the Straits of Florida and highlights the value of the paleoceanographic records from south Florida to our understanding of Holocene changes in climate and ocean circulation throughout the Atlantic.

Publication Year 2017
Title Millennial-scale variability in the local radiocarbon reservoir age of south Florida during the Holocene
DOI 10.1016/j.quageo.2017.07.005
Authors Lauren T. Toth, Hai Cheng, R. Lawrence Edwards, Erica Ashe, Julie N. Richey
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Quaternary Geochronology
Index ID 70191549
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization St. Petersburg Coastal and Marine Science Center